Military Offensive Into Rafah Will Push an Already Catastrophic Humanitarian Situation Into the Abyss

09 February 2024

Statement by Mercy Corps Chief Executive Officer Tjada D’Oyen McKenna

“Expanded air and ground operations into Rafah will unleash a humanitarian nightmare in Gaza surpassing even the horror of the past four months. For many people who have fled multiple times, Rafah was the last comparatively safe option. A town that was home to 250,000 people now has over one million, half of Gaza’s population, sheltering there in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions as starvation looms, life-sustaining supplies dwindle and deadly diseases and infections spread. It is truly the end of the line.

“Our team members in Rafah report this week that the streets are so crowded you can barely move and running water comes only once a week for a few hours if they are lucky enough to collect it. They say up to 700 people queue for hours for their turn to use a single toilet next to the tents and shelters. Others share stories of children and elderly who are dying of disease and infection without access to medicine or treatment.

“If people are forced to flee north from Rafah, they can only return to devastated areas that are littered with dangerous explosive devices and are virtually uninhabitable – no services, no supplies, no sufficient aid response, and very little remaining infrastructure to sustain life. The journey – as it was when many fled south – will likely be incredibly dangerous.    

“In addition to the likelihood of high civilian casualties in such a dense area, and forcing people to flee with no guarantees of safety, a military offensive in Rafah will also likely have devastating effects on the already limited ability of humanitarians to respond to the urgent needs of Gazans. Of the 11,000+ aid trucks that have crossed into Gaza through the two available border crossings, 70% have gone through the Rafah crossing. Rafah itself is now the central hub of humanitarian operations in Gaza. If the Rafah crossing is compromised and Rafah becomes the new epicenter of fighting – with warehouses, aid workers, distribution sites, and transportation routes in the line of fire as a result – the prospect for a continued aid response reaching any Gazans with lifesaving assistance is grim. This comes as Gaza’s entire population faces crisis levels of hunger and more than half are suffering from starvation. What we need now is a sustained ceasefire, end to the siege and access for the massive scale-up of aid – not a new onslaught in a town of a million people.”

For more information, please contact:

Our full media team is reachable at